Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Backyard

Sunrise on the Palo Verde Trail, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
My list of new places to check out grows faster than I can check things off.  This winter, so far, has not been particularly snowy in Arizona, so I went back to the list for winter destinations.  Mostly that means places too hot to comfortably visit in the summer.

Fiddling around with maps last month, I was surprised to see that Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is less than 2 ½ hours from home.  Why had I never been there? 

The Monument is home to at least 28 species of cactus, including the namesake Organ Pipe which is common in Mexico but much rarer in the U.S.  Organ Pipe Cactus are not as cold-tolerant as Saguaros, so their range is farther south.

I recently had a second trip to the monument, hiking and driving to some fresh spots and enjoying storm light, camping, and the 200th night camping in my Four Wheel Camper.

Border Fence, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The Monument’s proximity to the international border is always asserting itself.  There are signs suggesting how to handle oneself if you should run into border-crossers (who might be identified by the backpacks they carry. Rather like landscape photographers, I thought) Driving the Puerto Blanco Loop, the border fence is visible much of the time.  I found myself reflecting that political lines are odd, arbitrary things and that this one feels anything but friendly.

Storm along the Ajo Loop, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Storms give a new perspective, that is when I can motivate myself to be out in the cold wind.

Sunrise, near Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Sometimes the pay-off is breathtaking sky.

Cactus Skeleton, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Other times the light is so flat and gray that I’ll resort to working with smaller scenes.  The Chain Fruit Chollas leave especially lovely skeletons after they die, and these are a favorite subject.

Temperatures climb early in the spring here in the Sonoran Desert, but I hope to make one more trip before they do.

Clearing storm at Alamo Canyon, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
More on the website, in the Winter 2017-18 Gallery.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Second 100 Nights

Lurch's "Birthday" Party with Jeff Maltzman, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Because I depend so much upon my Toyota Tundra-Four Wheel Camper combination, I’ve anthropomorphized him a bit.  Yes, him.  His name is Lurch.

We’ve been running around together since Fall of 2013 and last weekend marked our 200th night camping.  I do feel as if I should apologize to him that the party was in a developed campground, but that was not my first choice.  Like the milestone of the 100th night just over two years ago, I’m reflecting on our travels.

Included in those most recent 100 nights are:

50 outside established campgrounds (always my preference, but sometimes there are practical issues)

37 places that were new for me

24 alone and 39 with my husband, and therefore 37 with others

13 in someone’s driveway

A few superlatives:

Mesquite Dunes, near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley

The place we haunted the most was Stovepipe Wells Campground in Death Valley.  Last month’s photography workshop, when I planted myself there for 5 nights, skewed the count a bit.
Lee Flat, winter storm
The place that we were most wondrously alone was Lee Flat (also in Death Valley) during a snowstorm in December 2016. Bad weather adds something to the mystique of Joshua Trees, I think.  With temps in the teens, I was grateful for the camper.
Lovely Amargosa Valley Nevada

The worst night was on the way home from Lake Tahoe, at a rest area at Amargosa Valley.  The wind nearly tore my roof off; I was using my body weight to hold it down from the inside.  I’m afraid that I have no pictures of this event.
Sunrise at Dog Point
My new favorite is Dog Point, in the Kaibab National Forest.  This little gem is quiet and lovely with places to explore.

Finally, a few favorite images from the last 100 camping trips

Coal Mine Canyon, Navajo/Hopi Reservations
Joshua Tree National Park
Lake Powell from Alstrom Point

Crazy Jug Point, Grand Canyon
Thanks so much for riding along. Another hundred are coming right up.  Meanwhile, more images from the anniversary trip to Organ Pipe Cactus NM are in the Winter 2017-18 Gallery on the website.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Obvious Child

I’ve almost always got music in my head when I’m out hiking and photographing.  You know, an earworm. Sometimes the title or lyrics make a connection to something on which my subconscious mind is chewing.

There are iconic locations which draw photographers in droves.  They populate calendar, postcards, and the checklists of superficial tourists.  Some say images of these locations are trite.  Perhaps so, but they are often irresistible.  Part of my trip last week was a workshop with Michael Gordon and Guy Tal.  Neither of these impressive artists have what I would call a conventional style, and that’s a good thing.

Ubehebe Crater Area, Death Valley National Park
We talked quite a bit on day one about finding our individual ways of seeing, about shooting something different than the postcard shot.  But, the dynamic duo did say that sometimes you need to get this most apparent shot out of the way first as a sort of clearing of the mind. I find that’s the way it works for me, as it calms the voice that tells me I’m missing something.  And, the naked truth is that the postcard images sell better, so I might as well shoot them too.

I found lyrics from the 1990 Paul Simon song in my head most of the next day.

I've been waking up at sunrise
I've been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day
Some people say the sky is just the sky
But I say
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

My images do sometimes feel like children, after all.  For example, we photographers sometimes refer to editing our work as killing “my darlings,” a nugget which may or may not have been coined by William Faulkner. 

Detail, Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park
The goal is something more personal, and more emotionally charged.  Mindfulness helps, enabling a sort of fresh way of seeing.  I’m essentially self-taught in Death Valley.  Sometimes that leads to an artistic rut for me, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn from the perspectives of Guy and Michael, as well as the other workshop participants.

Pastel Sunrise, Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park
For example, at dawn on Mesquite Dunes, I resolved not to make the same images I’ve been making of dunes.  I confined myself to a long focal length (telephoto lens) and pared out smaller scenes in the sandscape.

First kiss of light, Zabriskie Badlands, Death Valley National Park
Likewise, at Zabriskie Point.

Room Canyon, Death Valley National Park
I also find it helpful to explore new (for me) and less traveled (by everyone) locations in this giant park for inspiration.  This trip I explored Marble and Room Canyons.

Marble Canyon, Death Valley National Park
You’ll find the obvious and obscure children in the Winter2017-18 Gallery on the website. As Guy say, I can’t make you like them.  I hope you do, though.

The last of the January 2018 eclipse, Kofa National Wildlife Preserve
Appropos nothing, here's an image from a stop on the way home.